Standing by in Myanmar too costly for China

By Ding Gang Source:Global Times Published: 2012-6-13 18:40:02

Illustration: Sun Ying

Religious violence recently broke out in west Myanmar's Rakhine state. The Myanmese authorities have reportedly announced a curfew in several regions, including the city of Kyaukpyu.

The word "Kyaukpyu" has barely appeared in the Chinese media. It seems that few Chinese are concerned even if a large-scale riot erupts there. Recently I visited a university in Beijing and talked to students majoring in mass communication. I found out that they'd never heard of the place before.

Kyaukpyu is not a trivial place, especially for China. The city, located in Rakhine state which is in the middle of Myanmar's western coast, has close ties with China.

An oil and gas pipeline, about 2,380 kilometers long, is planned to start from here. Before long, it will stretch all the way to the Chinese city of Kunming. A highway and a railway are under simultaneous construction.

With this project accomplished, a large portion of the crude oil that China imports from the Gulf and Africa can land from Kyaukpyu and be delivered to China, rather than go through existing route in the Strait of Malacca.

More convenient transportation of crude oil is just one of the benefits. What's far more important is that China will face much less strategic pressure in its energy transportation through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea.

In some ways, the economic and social stability in Kyaukpyu and its surrounding regions is no less important that the sovereignty disputes between China and the Philippines over Huangyan Island. However, it seems that the Chinese media still regards what happens in Kyaukpyu as purely "foreign news."

Though Chinese media seldom notices the ties between China and the religious conflict in Rakhine state, its foreign counterparts do pay attention. Skimming through recent reports by Western media, one can easily see that almost all those reports mentioned the importance of this region to the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline.

China ought to care about the stability in this region more than others, because we have interests there. There is no way and no need to hide this.

It is a basic political stance for China, as an Asian power, to pay attention to neighborhood stability. And we should try to more actively aid ethnic reconciliation in Myanmar.

The Chinese media is responsible for helping the public to learn about places like Kyaukpyu. In particular, they should conduct in-depth reports and analyses, to help people understand the local development, including issues like religious and ethnic conflicts. We can't sit by and wait until something happens and nationalist feelings get stirred.

In the long term, helping the public deeply understand surrounding regions can facilitate peacefully addressing conflicts with surrounding areas. Only when ordinary people have a deep understanding about complicated regional dynamics, can a more objective public opinion atmosphere be built, which facilitates the government adopting more proactive diplomatic action.

Moreover, on similar regional issues, the Chinese diplomatic authorities should state their stance more proactively.

If necessary, they can give specific suggestions, guide public opinion and influence the addressing of these issues through proper diplomatic channels.

It is necessary to prepare for such emergencies. But what's more important is that we should adopt proactive measures to prevent the situation from worsening to such a degree that Chinese enterprises will have to withdraw. It's costly to take proactive moves, but much less so than large-scale withdrawal would be.

The significance of Myanmar's stability to regional development is increasingly evident. And it is also more and more important for China to move into the rest of the world and bring its economic vigor to neighboring countries.

Myanmar's development, its political geometry, and its issues, like ethnic and religious conflicts, directly link to China's interests. China is not just a bystander, and it can't afford just to stand by.

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily. He is now stationed in Bangkok.

Posted in: Columnists, Ding Gang

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